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New Bedford ceremony recalls immigration raid

Five years after a federal raid at a New Bedford factory ended in the arrests of hundreds of immigrants, community and immigration advocates marked the anniversary with a public remembrance they hope will bring attention to those apprehended who still face deportation.

“These are individuals whose lives were very much affected by this raid, and they’re still here trying to put back all the pieces of their lives that were broken,’’ said Francisco Ramos, the director of the social justice group, United Interfaith Action.

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The March 2007 raid on the Michael Bianco Co. textile factory in New Bedford by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was one of the largest in US history. Many of the 361 workers detained were deported, but others remain in legal limbo, awaiting either deportation or long-sought reprieves.

Ramos said nearly 100 residents attended a service Friday night at the Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James Church, where many of those detained worshipped and which became a response center for detainees’ families after the raid.

Participants then marched to locations throughout the city, where some of those detained told stories about their struggle to remain in the United States. The procession, which also drew a small group of protesters, ended at the now-closed factory.

Ramos said the raid dramatically changed daily life for immigrants in New Bedford.

“It forced people and families to live in an invisible situation even more than before,’’ Ramos said. “Many people felt they needed to be more careful of the police department and anything representing authority.’’

The early morning raid by hundreds of federal agents proved a divisive tactic, both in New Bedford and nationally. Some applauded the action, but others said immigration officials violated the rights of detainees and separated families.

Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the agency, said, however, that it has shifted its efforts to prosecuting illegal immigrants with criminal records and employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

“ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those serious criminal aliens . . . not sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately,’’ he said.

Dan Adams can be reached at DAdams@globe.com and on Twitter at @DanielAdams86.
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